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Texas | Columns | Lone Star Diary

Elijah Cox
Fighting Indians on the Texas Frontier

by Murray Montgomery
Murray Montgomery

It has been written that the majority of Buffalo Soldiers did not care for that name - they wanted only to be referred to as American soldiers who were serving their country with honor and distinction. Elijah Cox was one of those men.

The story of Elijah Cox naturally begins with his parents who were slaves in the beginning but were free prior the Civil War. Jim and Kizzie Cox escaped slavery, with their children, by trekking miles through the woods near Memphis, Tennessee. Eventually they wound up in Quebec, Canada - then came back to America and settled in the free state of Michigan where Elijah was born in 1842.

Elijah Cox with Fiddle
Elijah Cox with fiddle
Courtesy True West Historical Society

To say that Elijah Cox lead a remarkable life would be an understatement. He entered military service during the Civil War where he served as a personal aide to Capt. George Madison of the 6th Illinois Cavalry. After the war Cox returned to Michigan where he learned to be a carpenter - later he became a sailor. Neither of these professions, however, was to his liking and he decided to rejoin the Army.

On July 1, 1870, Cox was assigned to Company B, 25th Infantry - this unit, made up of black men, gallantly served on the Texas frontier. Elijah Cox spent a year with this unit and was wounded during an engagement with Apache Indians between Fort Davis and Fort Quitman. Because of his injuries, the Army gave him an honorable discharge on June 30, 1871, at Fort Bliss.

It seems that Elijah had intended to return home to Michigan, but while traveling near San Angelo and Fort Concho he fell in love with the area and decided to stay - he would spend the rest of his life in Texas.


Elijah Cox was what you might call a "jack of all trades" - he worked as a cook, bartender, buffalo hunter, carpenter, entertainer, and musician. According to an article from the True West Historical Society, Elijah's favorite occupation was being a musician. He was accomplished with the guitar and fiddle.

Elijah and his son, Ben, played for all the dances at Fort Concho. In 1924, Cox was interviewed by a local newspaper and he reminisced about the music he played. "There wasn't none of them turkey trots in that day," said Cox. "Folks danced the schottische, the polka, the square dance, and the quadrille. We had music in them days, too. I'll bet I can play 300 waltzes, all of them different, without stopping."

It's interesting to note that some sources say that although he was in the military, Cox was never assigned to Fort Concho; however, the fort's website says he did serve there. Regardless, there's no doubt that he loved the area and died there Jan. 20, 1941, at the age of 98. He is buried at Fairmont Cemetery in San Angelo.


Information found in an article published in February 2014, by Goodfellow Air Force Base, reveals that Fort Concho, originally established in 1867, was built for soldiers protecting frontier settlers traveling west against Native American tribes in the area.

According to Bob Bluthardt, Fort Concho site manager, the Buffalo Soldiers at many western forts weren't often welcomed by white citizens the colored troops had sworn to protect. They still performed admirably in the field, maintaining the lowest desertion and discipline rates with the highest re-enlistment rates.

Some famous Buffalo Soldiers who served at Fort Concho include Henry O. Flipper, who graduated from West Point and became the nation's first African-American Army officer, and Elijah Cox, who remained in San Angelo after his service and was known for his talents as a fiddler.

"About 80 percent of the troops were ex-slaves, so they were built for the military life, so they were used to working hard, long hours and surviving on little food and clothing," said Paul Cook, Company A manager.

Elijah Cox was one of hundreds of black soldiers who served courageously on the Texas frontier - they answered the call to arms and for that we should honor them. Fort Concho pays tribute to these men every February during Black History Month.


Murray Montgomery
Lone Star Diary February 2, 2015 column


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